The political polarization in the United States and many western democracies is significant.
Some argue this is the worst it has ever been in American history. However, considering some of the events in this country’s past (civil war, civil rights movement, etc.), calling it the worse is an exaggeration.
The critical question is, “how did we get to this point?”
The late physicist David Bohm developed an interesting theory called proprioception of thought that answers the question. What does it mean? Proprioception means the ability to perceive movement. For instance, if I move my right hand, I know I did it, not someone else.
Proprioception of thought means awareness of the movements of our thoughts.
Most of us are unaware of how memories influence our thoughts. For example, if I grew up in a household where both of my parents were democrats, the likelihood I would eventually become one also increases significantly.
My parent’s beliefs and behaviors would influence my opinion long before I could evaluate the democratic party’s policies myself.
There is nothing wrong with being a Democrat or Republican; the issue resolves around unexamined memories affecting our thought process. Much of what we hold true in life come from past thought.
These initial thoughts can lead to reflexive thinking and viewing the world from a filtered lens.
However, in our minds, we don’t believe that we’re displaying a bias. Our thought process tells us, “this is the way the world is, and I’m doing nothing.” Bohm points to that fact in our thinking being a “problem.”
The trouble eventually arises between two groups who clash based on ideals where no middle ground exists. Bohm calls these dilemmas “absolute necessities.”
When two groups of people reach that point, then beliefs go to “needing to get rid” of our adversaries to attain “freedom.” Bohm wisely points out that this is hardly freedom. We’re acting based on thoughts, and that thinking pattern is already set.
Our inability to perceive how past thought impacts perception is critical.
If someone were to tell me that all people in group A are bad, and I accept that as fact, then those thoughts automatically impact my ability to perceive individual behavior accurately. I’d already labeled them bad before I met them.
Also, Bohm points out “the need to be right” as a significant obstacle in our thinking.
To have the ability to critically think, one must refrain from defending assumptions, especially when there is overwhelming contradictory evidence. To say one can always find evidence to support their view, regardless if it is true or false, is dishonest. I can find someone who would back the belief the earth is flat, but the overwhelming data does not reflect that claim.
Intellect allows us to acquire knowledge, which can’t happen if we deny facts and hold on to assumptions.
What does Bohm suggest we do about our lack of proprioception of thought?
Bohm suggested we talk to each other but agree to the terms of engagement before the meeting. We would form groups of 20 people at a time and dialogue around our issues. However, individuals would listen to each other, not react but also reject repressing emotion as well. It would require suspending reacting, which serves as a mirror to see the outcome of our thoughts.
While it sounds like a far-fetched dream to solve our political discord in this county or the west in general, we’re starting to run out of alternatives.
The time to face the reality that we are participants in the political process, not just victims, is now. The sooner we recognize that fact, the quicker we can stop the fraying of our society.